Strike cripples Bangladesh as death toll rises
Two protesters were killed on Monday, raising the overall death toll to 14
Agence France-Presse in Dhaka
Two more Bangladesh protesters were killed in clashes on Monday, the second day of a nationwide strike called by the opposition demanding the prime minister quit and hold elections under a caretaker government.
The two were killed in the north and southeast, raising the overall death toll in the political unrest to 14 since Friday, as schools and businesses remained shut across the country.
Police said opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) activists hacked a rival ruling party supporter to death in the northern town of Rambhadra Bazaar, amid a mounting crisis over upcoming elections.
“BNP supporters hacked the Awami League supporter to death with machetes at Rambhadra Bazar early in the morning,” local police chief Saidur Rahman said.
A truck driver also died after being pelted with bricks by supporters of the country’s largest Islamist party, a key ally of BNP, in the southeastern coastal town of Satkania, regional police chief Hafiz Akter said.
The latest violence comes after last-minute talks on Saturday between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her bitter rival, BNP leader Khaleda Zia, failed to halt the three-day strike and defuse the crisis.
Hasina’s appeal to call off the strike occurred during a 40-minute phone conversation – believed to be the first time in at least a decade that the two “battling begums” have spoken, underlining the severity of the crisis.
“Begum” is an honorific for a Muslim woman of rank.
The BNP and its Islamist allies called mass protests on Friday ahead of the strike to force Hasina to give up power and set up a caretaker administration of technocrats to oversee elections in January next year.
Clashes throughout the country since Friday between opposition and ruling party activists and with police have left at least 14 people dead.
Zia, who has twice served as premier, has branded the government “illegal”, citing a legal provision that requires a neutral government to be set up three months before elections.
Hasina said such an arrangement is unconstitutional, proposing instead an all-party interim government led by her to oversee the January polls. But the BNP rejected the proposal, claiming it would allow Hasina to rig results.
Schools, shops and other businesses remained closed in towns and cities on Monday for the strike, while extra police and paramilitary officers have been deployed on the streets.